May 24, 2024 | Flash Brief

Top UN Court Calls for Israel to End Anti-Hamas Operations in Rafah

May 24, 2024 | Flash Brief

Top UN Court Calls for Israel to End Anti-Hamas Operations in Rafah

Latest Developments

The International Court of Justice (ICJ), the United Nations’ top court, on May 24 called for Israel to end its operations in Rafah, “which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that may bring about its physical destruction, in whole or in part.” Four intact Hamas battalions remain in Rafah, which is a key hub for smuggling weapons into the coastal enclave. Judge Nawaf Salam, who was elected head of the ICJ on February 6 and has a history of anti-Israel bias, said he was not convinced that Israeli efforts to evacuate Rafah were sufficient to alleviate Palestinian suffering.

Responding to the ICJ decision, Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz said, “We will continue to act according to international law in Rafah and wherever we operate, and make an effort to avoid harming the civilian population. Not because of The Hague tribunal but first of all because of who we are.”

Expert Analysis

“This is another day of shame for the ICJ in its discriminatory treatment of Israel. Let’s not forget that this case was brought by South Africa — a country disgraced by a leadership that actively supports Hamas and that tars Israel with the defamatory accusation of ‘genocide.’ Israel, which has undertaken a major effort to move more than a million civilians out of Rafah to safety in advance of its operation to defeat Hamas in that city, will rightly disdain this ruling.” —  Mark Dubowitz, FDD CEO

“The ICJ vindicated Hamas’s strategy of hiding behind civilians in order to put Israel behind bars. This will tarnish the court’s reputation more than Israel’s.” — David May, FDD Research Manager and Senior Research Analyst

South Africa Submitted Multiple Requests to Halt Israeli Anti-Hamas Operations

On December 29, 2023, South Africa submitted an application to the ICJ alleging that Israel is violating the Genocide Convention, which defines genocide as one of several specified acts, including killing members of a group, when such acts are “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group as such.” Israel has called the accusation — that its response to the largest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust constitutes genocide — “blood libel.”

Following hearings held between January 11 and January 12, the ICJ issued a provisional order on January 26 that rejected South Africa’s request to order Israel to halt its military operations in Gaza. So far, South Africa has submitted three “urgent request[s] for additional measures.” In response to one of these requests, Israel submitted a lengthy report on April 28 detailing the measures it has implemented to protect Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

South African Case an ‘Inversion of Reality’

South Africa submitted its most recent request on May 10 over Israel’s “assault on Rafah.” South Africa and Israel presented their cases before the court on May 16 and May 17, respectively. Israeli Deputy Attorney General Gilad Noam hotly disputed South Africa’s characterization of its Rafah campaign as an act of “genocide,” asserting that Israel was carrying out “limited and localized operations prefaced with evacuation efforts and support for humanitarian activities.”

Noam called the case an “inversion of reality,” saying that South Africa “makes a mockery of the heinous charge of genocide.” Noam reminded the court, “Rafah also serves as a military stronghold for Hamas, which continues to pose a significant threat to the State of Israel and its citizens.” Noam noted that on May 11, the day after it submitted its most recent urgent request, South African foreign minister Naledi Pandor met with Hamas representatives in South Africa.

ICJ Rejects South Africa’s New Attack Against Israel,” FDD Flash Brief

ICJ Rejects Gaza Ceasefire Demand, Urges Hostages Released,” FDD Flash Brief

The ICJ’s New Chief Judge Has a History of Bias Against Israel,” by Orde Kittrie

“Hamas’ South African Support Network,” by David May

Issues:

International Organizations Israel Israel at War